Politics & Policy

The Pittsburgh Massacre Wasn’t Trump’s Fault, but He’s Not Helping

(Leah Millis/Reuters)
The president’s inability to act, well, presidential is problematic enough.

The debate over whether or not President Trump encouraged the man who set out to slaughter Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh really isn’t a debate at all. It’s a shouting match.

“Yes, he did!”

“No, he didn’t!”

And it will likely only make things worse, as each side grows increasingly deaf to its own heated rhetoric and ever more furious at the other’s.

Here’s a better question: Is Trump helping?

The answer is obviously no — and that’s bad enough.

Let us stipulate that the pro-Israel father of Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner, is not “literally Hitler.” But let’s also stipulate that there’s something about Trump and his MAGA nationalism that’s been, and remains, very attractive to bigots. This doesn’t mean that everyone who jumped aboard the Trump train is a bigot. Far from it. But it is simply true that some who did are bigots, and Trump and his team have been dismayingly unconcerned about this fact.

I have some personal experience here. When the alt-right rallied to Trump starting in 2015, I was one of their targets. I was besieged with anti-Semitic filth. I ranked sixth on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of targeted Jewish journalists. Once, when I mentioned that my brother had died, I was pelted with “jokes” asking if he’d been turned into soap or a lampshade.

While the attacks shocked me, I was more dismayed by how little many fellow conservatives seemed to care about the entire phenomenon. This was back when Steve Bannon — later the Trump campaign’s CEO and eventually the president’s senior adviser — still wanted Breitbart.com to be a “platform” for the alt-right.

The best defense of Trump at the time was ignorance and, ironically, bigotry — toward Republicans. A lifelong New York Democrat, Trump had no real understanding of what traditional conservatives and Republicans believed. In 2000, when he vied for the Reform party’s presidential nomination, he said he was trying to keep bigots from taking over the party. “He’s obviously been having a love affair with Adolf Hitler,” Trump said of opponent Patrick Buchanan. Trump’s dream running mate: Oprah.

In 2016, after years of cultivating support for his birtherism, Trump still believed many of the liberal stereotypes of the GOP as a hothouse of bigotry. That’s why he struggled to repudiate David Duke and let Putin’s and the alt-right’s racist troll armies fight in his name. Trump thought he needed them.

Trump is even more ignorant about how to be presidential. He’s the first president who doesn’t even know how to pretend to be a unifying figure, at least for longer than it takes to read a statement. Instead, he’s enraptured by the rapture of his base, feeding them red meat, dog whistles, and cultural wedge issues — anything to keep all of the attention, negative or positive, on him. He often says it would be “so easy to be presidential” but, as he said at a Pennsylvania rally in March, “You’d all be out of here right now, you’d be so bored.” Why try to unify the country if the price is a little less applause and attention?

This dynamic has had a transformative effect on Trump, his base — and his opponents. Trump long resisted calling himself a “nationalist,” fearing it was kooky Bannon stuff. Now he embraces it, heedless of its implications to others not already on his team. The media has gone from being biased (it is), to being “fake” (it’s not), to being the “enemy of the people” and tantamount to a fifth column.

Many in the Trumpified right-wing media amplify and reinforce all of this because they, too, are addicted to the same base.

Amid the mail-bomb scare last week Trump tweeted about how unfair it is that CNN can criticize him “yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘It’s just not Presidential!’” The false equivalence is lost on him and on his biggest defenders. CNN isn’t the president. It’s in a different lane. And while some of its coverage is worthy of criticism, it isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a warrant for Trump to leave his lane.

I don’t think Trump deliberately encouraged the slaughter in Pittsburgh. But every day he fuels a sense of chaos, a feeling that none of the norms or rules apply anymore. And that is bad enough. It certainly isn’t helping. The president is supposed to at least try.

© 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Most Popular

Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Media

The Media’s War on Words

I recently ran across a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this: Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. ... Read More
Media

The Media’s War on Words

I recently ran across a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this: Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Culture

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More
Culture

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More